INDIANAPOLIS | No. 1 Indiana, which has been playing short-handed all season, is getting reinforcements.
Today, 6-foot-8 forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea and 7-foot center Peter Jurkin are expected to make their college debuts after completing an NCAA-imposed nine-game suspension. All the Hoosiers have to do now is figure out how to work the two freshmen into the lineup against in-state rival Butler.
"I think it's going to be sort of a game feel," Indiana associate head coach Steve McClain said. "I think coach (Tom Crean) has an idea in his mind of how he wants to do this."
He's just not saying what it is.
It's not as if the Hoosiers (9-0) need more help. They lead the nation in scoring (89.1 points) and victory margin (plus-31.7). They are fourth nationally in rebound differential (plus-13.8) and field-goal percentage (51.5). They even lead the Big Ten in defensive field-goal percentage (35.3) and defensive 3-point percentage (26.4) and have won every game by double digits.
Still, things were starting to get thin on the front line.
Derek Elston, a 6-foot-9 senior forward, had surgery Oct. 26 for a torn meniscus in his left knee and though his recovery is going well, he isn't expected back until after Christmas. Last week, sophomore forward Austin Etherington went down with a season-ending fractured left kneecap.
So getting the two freshmen back now will help at this weekend's Crossroads Classic, a double-header featuring Indiana's four best-known basketball programs — the Hoosiers, two-time national runner-up Butler and two more NCAA tourney regulars, No. 22 Notre Dame and Purdue.
Mosquera-Perea and Jurkin were ordered to sit last month by the NCAA, which determined the two had accepted improper benefits from their AAU coach, Mark Adams. He provided them with $9,702 and $6,003 in plane tickets, meals, housing, a laptop computer, a cellphone and clothing. Mosquera-Perea was told to pay back approximately $1,590 and Jurkin $250.
The NCAA said both players were qualified to receive the benefits from AHOPE, the nonprofit organization Adams uses to help international players obtain travel documents and cover travel costs to the U.S. The problem was that Adams also was considered an Indiana booster because he donated $185 to the Varsity Club from 1986-92, and boosters cannot provide benefits to players.
Now that they are with the team, it won't be as simple as just plugging Mosquera-Perea and Jurkin into a lineup that revolves around national player of the year candidate Cody Zeller. McClain said it may take a little time to figure it all out.
"Peter is a shot-blocker with length whereas Hanner is a shot-blocker who can step out on the perimeter and guard a perimeter player," McClain said. "They both can rebound on a high level, so they bring a lot to the table."
For the Bulldogs, it's another opportunity to slay a basketball behemoth in front of a national television audience.
Butler (7-2) captivated the nation by becoming the first school in Indiana's storied history to reach back-to-back championship games in 2010 and 2011, and the Bulldogs are up to their old tricks again. The Bulldogs have won four straight, five straight at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and have already beaten Marquette, North Carolina and Northwestern as rumors have spread that they may be looking to leave the Atlantic 10 and join a new conference with Marquette and other former Big East schools.
Athletic director Barry Collier declined to comment on those rumors Friday.
One thing Butler hasn't done yet: Beat a No. 1 team. In its only other meetings with the nation's top-ranked team, Butler lost at DePaul in February 1980 and at Michigan during the 1964-65 season.
This time, they'll play Indiana five miles from the Butler campus with a team that has steadily improved.
Butler's game plan revolves around two new hotshot shooters — Rotnei Clarke, the big-shooting guard who was an All-SEC player at Arkansas, and Kellen Dunham. Plus, 7-foot senior Andrew Smith and power forward Khyle Marshall have been playing better. Smith is coming off a 24-point, 10-rebound game at Northwestern, maybe the best game of his career, and Marshall has become an imposing inside threat.
Coach Brad Stevens nearly had Zeller to go along with that group, but he choose Indiana over Butler and North Carolina.
"They're No. 1 for a reason, they're very deep. I think they've got great skill, great athleticism and a selfless superstar," Stevens said of the Hoosiers. "I think they'll be the team to beat all the way through April."
While the Indiana-Butler game is Saturday's main feature, it's not the only popular attraction in town.
Notre Dame forwards Jack Cooley and Scott Martin will lead No. 22 Notre Dame (8-1) against the young Boilermakers (4-5). These schools, just 108 miles apart, haven't met on the basketball court since the 2004 NIT and the series is tied 20-20.
Martin, once part of a Purdue recruiting class dubbed the Baby Boilers, has downplayed the significance of facing his old school.
"I had some good times and some big wins, so I definitely enjoyed myself there (at Purdue)," Martin said. "Obviously, it didn't work out, and I don't think anyone was too thrilled about the way things happened, but I don't think anyone's bitter about it."
The Boilermakers have struggled this season with three losses already to non-power conference schools — Bucknell, Xavier and last Saturday at Eastern Michigan 47-44. Their only win against a BCS-conference school came at Clemson.